A 5-Minute Primer on the Lower Cape Fear River

Wilmington fishing charters discuss this amazing natural resource in coastal North Carolina

The lower part of the Cape Fear River from the city of Wilmington to where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Bald Island isn’t just a premier fishing destination for anglers of all levels – it also serves as a vital shipping channel between the port at Wilmington and the Atlantic. Sections of the river around Wilmington are also considered part of the Intracoastal Waterway

However, for general anglers and fishing charters around Wilmington, the lower Cape Fear River provides exceptional opportunities for Red Drum (Redfish), Speckled trout, Flounder and more.

The name “Cape Fear” comes from the area’s earliest European settlers who encountered dangerous shoals that extend for several miles from the river’s mouth into the ocean.

We invite you to continue reading to learn more about this incredibly diverse ecosystem that, despite its challenges, is one of the premier fishing destinations in North Carolina.

The Cape Fear River begins its 200 mile journey in the center of the state near Greensboro…

The Cape Fear River begins at the junction of the Deep and Haw Rivers in Chatham County, North Carolina some 200 miles northeast of Wilmington. The entire basin consists of over 6500 miles of streams covering nearly 9200 square miles.

The river was initially discovered, explored and documented in the late 17th century by an English explorer named William Hilton, Jr. After observing the lower Cape Fear’s abundance of fish, waterfowl and wildlife, Hilton stayed in the area and ended up purchasing a large area of land in the basin that he eventually made into his permanent home.

In the ensuing years and into the 20th century, the Cape Fear River and its tributaries served as valuable shipping routes for inland towns of Fayetteville, Elizabethtown and others. In the late 1800s and into the 20th century, various locks and dams were constructed along the river to support commercial shipping. While many of these locks still stand today, they are no longer in use.

The Cape Fear estuary system, or where saltwater from the Atlantic begins mixing with freshwater, is over 35 miles long and is a breeding ground for a litany of shrimp, crabs and small fish. These creatures form the basis of the food chain for larger gamefish that are popular among general anglers and fishing charters in Wilmington.

The lower section of the Cape Fear between Wilmington and the Atlantic has a very wide channel that accommodates both fishing charters and shipping…

While it is possible to fish the lower Cape Fear throughout the year, many captains agree that spring time is best.

Wilmington fishing - Cape Fear map
Image courtesy of NASA

Although the upper parts of river north of Wilmington are not used for shipping so much anymore, the estuary and main channel of the river is. This channel needs dredging every so often – the sediment from this is deposited into the surrounding area to form “spoil islands.” Between these islands and the river’s bank lies a plethora of Red Drum, Speckled trout, Flounder and more.

Another interesting feature of the lower Cape Fear estuary is a wall structure built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1890s. Known as “The Rocks” to fishing charters and local anglers, the structure is around 3 miles long and separates the river channel from Second Bay and Buzzards Bay. The wall runs roughly from Fort Fisher to a small island near the mouth of the estuary at Bald Head Island.

While the wall still stands in most spots, strong winter storms and hurricanes and blown holes in certain parts. During certain high tides, strong currents through these openings provide a virtual buffet of baitfish, shrimp and crabs to gamefish in the area.

Besides commonly known fish and animal species like the American Alligator and Loggerhead Sea Turtle, the Cape Fear shiner is a rare fish that’s only found in this estuary.

As we explained earlier, most fishing charters around Wilmington agree that spring is the best time of year for fishing the lower parts of the Cape Fear around Bald Head Island, Zeke’s Island, Southport and Carolina Beach. During the winter months, many species seek warmer water slightly upstream around the confluence of the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear River near Wilmington.

Fishing charters, including A Fine Line Charters in Wilmington, operate throughout the year in the lower Cape Fear River basin. We invite you to visit http://www.afinelinecharters.com/ to learn more or to schedule your excursion today!

Featured image courtesy of NASA

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